Disney Plus UK Review: Family-Friendly Throwbacks

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Several months after its US debut, the streaming video service from Disney, known as Disney+, has finally reached the UK (and a few other European countries). With more than 800 films, TV shows and specials, it’s a streaming behemoth right from the start.

But with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video already dominating the streaming TV market in the UK (and to a lesser degree, NOW TV and BBC iPlayer), can Disney+ still take a piece of that pie?

With Disney owning some of the biggest entertainment franchises in the world (Marvel and Star Wars, for example), Disney+ is surely the most star-studded service. But with so few original shows (for now), is this huge nostalgic library enough?

In this review, I’ll take a look at what’s it like to use Disney+, whether the content is any good, and how it stands up against the competition.

Disney Plus free trial main screen

Quick Look – Disney+

Who is it for: Disney/Marvel/Star Wars fans who want a one-stop-shop for all their favourite titles. Also great for your kids.

Pros

  • A massive catalogue of classic Disney films and newer blockbusters
  • Many 4K/HDR titles (Without having to pay more)
  • Some of the movies have extra content (commentaries, making-ofs, etc’)
  • Available on almost every streaming device in the UK
  • Very competitive price
  • Subtitles (in several languages) for all the content

Cons

  • Very few original shows (for now)
  • If you’re already a fan – you’ve probably seen A LOT of the content already
  • Some of the apps are still a bit buggy
  • No free trial

Summary

Despite its size and popularity, Disney+ still feels like a streaming service for a somewhat-niche audience. It doesn’t have something for everyone, but it has everything for some. (And, if you’ve got kids – it’s probably a no-brainer).


What Is Disney+?

First, we had Netflix. A small DVD-by-mail company that turned into a streaming-TV company, Netflix, in its early days, had it all (well, almost) – popular TV shows from all the American networks, obscure films no one’s ever heard of, alongside some of the biggest blockbusters – including from Disney.

Then, when Netflix became huge (and garnered fierce competitors like Amazon Prime Video and, in the UK, NOW TV), rival studios started noticing it. Including Disney.

So, instead of selling their content to Netflix, Disney decided to join the streaming wars with their own VOD service – Disney+.

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Disney Plus and Netflix
Photo: Deposit Photos / Daniel.Constante

In the US, Disney+ launched back in November 2019, with content from Disney’s five main production arms – Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, National Geographic and Disney itself.

The numbers were pretty staggering – and as of February 2020, Disney+ has already gained 28.6 million subscribers (with 10 million of those on the first day.)

Then, on March 24, Disney+ finally launched on our side of the pond. It’s also replacing DisneyLife, a UK streaming service that offered a small selection of content from Disney.

The power of Disney+ lies in the huge popularity of its content. Marvel’s superhero films have dominated box offices in recent years, Star Wars did the same 40 years ago – and then again this decade, while Disney and Pixar’s catalogue is a treasure-trove of beloved content from many years ago (with some of it being hard to get, until now).

How Can I Watch Disney+ In The UK?

Being a streaming service, you can only watch Disney+ with a broadband connection and a supported streaming device. That means it’s not available on Freeview, or as part of a “traditional” pay-TV cable/satellite service. (Though you can get it as an app on Sky Q, which would still need to be connected to the internet).

How Much Does Disney+ Cost?

In the UK, Disney+ costs £5.99/month, or £59.99 (so £4.99/month) if you pay for a full year in advance.

Unlike Netflix, there are no separate tiers – the normal subscription gives you everything, including 4K/HDR quality for some of the content.

Whichever subscription-length you choose, there’s also a free, 7-days trial, so you can test the waters first. (Disney+ is not offering a free trial anymore).

For more possible Disney+ deals and discounts, check out our streaming TV deals page.

Disney Plus on phone

Which Devices Can I Watch Disney+ On?

Fortunately, Disney+ is available on almost every streaming device (and many, but not all, Smart TVs) in the UK:

The service works pretty much the same on every device, with a few specific quirks here and there.

The Interface: Using Disney+

When you first install the app, you need to either sign up or sign in. As with most other services, logging in on your TV or streaming set-top box is a hassle, with that dreaded on-screen keyboard.

On the Amazon Fire TV, I was told (on-screen) that if I log in to the Disney+ app on my phone, I will be able to use it to log in on the Fire TV. That sounds great (no need to enter the password on the TV). However, it… didn’t work. The app on the phone never acknowledged that I have a Fire TV connected, or even mentioned that feature.

That, unfortunately, is a recurring issue with Disney+ at this point – it has bugs. So yes, these are early days, and the service just launched in the UK – but most of these apps have already been available in the US and a few other countries for several months, so bugs should have been ironed out by now.

Mind you, the bugs I noticed were not deal-breakers. But, for example, it’s very annoying to have to enter your e-mail and password on the Samsung TV app AGAIN, because the app inexplicably logged me off after a few hours of use.

Disney Plus error message on Samsung

And it was annoying for the subtitles not to work on the Roku, with me having to stop and start them a few times until they came back. And on the Fire TV, the interface would occasionally slow down to a crawl, with no apparent reason.

These small issues will probably get fixed soon – but such a shiny service shouldn’t have them at this point.

Other than that, the interface is pretty easy to use – these days, if you’ve seen one streaming TV service, you’ve seen them all – and Disney+ is no exception.

The main screen shows you a few featured/new titles, and below that, a row of different categories – things like “Hit Movies”, “Reimagined Classics”, as well as a “Continue Watching” row and your very own watchlist.

If you’re a fan of one of the five Disney+ “worlds” (Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic), you can jump directly into them with their big buttons.

To my joy, Disney+ also lets you set up to seven different user profiles, each with its own cute Disney character (Inexplicably, Netflix is the only other major service that offers this for now).

Profile icons on Disney+

Each profile can have its own Watchlist and “Continue Watching” feature, and the personal watch recommendations would also fit that user’s tastes, and not get jumbled up with what the whole family is watching. You can also set a “Kids” profile, which will then only show age-appropriate content.

You can stream Disney+ on up to four separate devices at the same time (so four family members can watch different shows), and you can download content for offline viewing on up to ten separate devices – that’s very generous when compared to some of the other streaming services.

The Disney+ Smartphone/Tablet App

The smartphone app, which is available both for Android and iOS phones (and tablets) is good and works and looks pretty much the same as the TV-based apps.

Disney Plus smartphone app

Streaming works well, but you can’t directly choose the stream quality (4K/HD/SD etc’) – there’s only a vague “Save data” setting which “streams at a lower quality to save data.”

You can download movies and episodes for offline viewing, and even full seasons of shows with one tap. Content can be saved either to the device or to a memory card, and you can choose between three download quality levels.

The bugs that show up on some of the other Disney+ apps, occasionally creep up in the smartphone app as well (I tested the Android app) – such as subtitles that go missing, and connection issues.

The most alarming bug was when I downloaded a show to watch offline, and then activated Airplane Mode. When I re-opened the app, I got an error screen telling me there’s no internet connection, and… I couldn’t even access the app at that point, which also meant I had no way of watching the episodes I downloaded without re-connecting to the internet.

Disney Plus app no connection error

A second try (getting online and then offline again) was successful, but imagine the possible disappointment of downloading a series to watch on the plane or on the tube, only to find out you can’t – when it’s already too late.

Hopefully, these are just early-day bugs, which will be fixed soon.

What Can I Watch On Disney+?

While the technical aspects are important, a streaming service is only as good as its content – and that’s where things get really divisive when it comes to Disney+.

First, let’s go over what it does have (and you can find the full list of Day 1 content here).

First, there’s the Marvel catalogue, with 30 Superhero films from the past two decades, from Ironman to Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and of course – all the Avengers movies. (But not the Tom Holland Spiderman movies, unfortunately, as those belong to Sony)

Captain America civil war

You also get some of the Marvel TV shows, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Runaways (but not the ones created by Netflix like Daredevil.)

With the Marvel movies being such a staple of modern entertainment in recent years, having all of them in one place, for easy streaming whenever you want, is great.

Then, you get all the Star Wars content – from all the movies (except Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker which should arrive soon), to the animated TV shows like Star Wars: Clone Wars and even a few documentaries and making-of featurettes. (And of course, The Mandalorian, which I’ll talk about in a minute).

And then there’s Pixar with their popular, critically acclaimed movies – like the Toy Story series, Finding Nemo, Cars, and the list goes on (20 in total).

Want more? How about The Simpsons – which is mentioned specifically by name, because Disney+ has more than… 600 episodes (!) and 30 seasons of The Simpsons, with new seasons to be added at a later date.

And then there’s the vast Disney catalogue – all the animated classics (some have been hard to find over the years), short Mickey Mouse cartoons from almost 100 years ago, as well as live-action classics, from Mary Poppins to Pirates of the Caribbean.

And yes, even silly Disney comedies from the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s, which will take many of you back to your childhood – things like the Herbie series (about the hilarious Beetle car which has a life of its own), Big Business with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes which features a very young Kurt Russell, and many other hidden gems (or guilty pleasures).

And then there’s National Geographic, which might feel a little out of place, but offers some top-quality documentaries and educational shows.

One thing you can quickly learn from this long list, is that Disney+ is very family-oriented. Most of the shows and movies are appropriate for the whole family (with a few minor exceptions here and there), and you’re not going to find anything too edgy – as befits the Disney brand.

That, in turn, is both a blessing and a curse. It turns Disney+ into a niche service, where instead of getting something for everyone, you get a catalogue that – while includes a lot of masterpieces – is a bit bland for those looking for “adult”, edgy entertainment.

The other problem, is that if you’re a big fan of Star Wars, or Marvel, or even Pixar – you’ve most likely already seen everything that Disney+ has to offer in those areas. Sure, it’s fun to be able to see them all again in one place (and catch something you did miss) – but the lack of more original content is a problem.

Which brings us to…

The Disney+ Originals

Disney Plus originals

Library content is nice – but it’s not enough these days. With so many streaming companies (and “traditional” TV channels) battling it out, the main differentiator between them has become the original content that they produce.

At launch, Disney+ is, unfortunately, behind the curve.

Yes, there are some original films and TV shows that you can’t find anywhere else.

The best among those is, of course, The Mandalorian, which you must have heard of by now.

The Mandalorian is the first live-action TV series set in the Star Wars universe, and it follows the travails of a lone gunfighter (Pedro Pascal) in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic. (It takes place a few years after Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi.)

The Mandalorian star wars tv show
Photo: Disney

It’s a wonderful, inventive show the combines action, drama and humour with a Western-like storyline and feel, all set in the Star Wars universe. And while Star Wars fans will enjoy all the small references and easter eggs, even those who know very little about that universe can enjoy the series, as it’s not a direct continuation of any of the stories from the movies.

In the US, The Mandalorian aired week-to-week on Disney+, and has since finished its run (Season 1 is only eight episodes). Therefore, it’s rather disappointing that at this point, when the world and the internet are done talking about the show – Disney+ in the UK insists on airing it week-to-week over here, again.

So while the service launched with two episodes available to watch, and the third one will be coming on Friday, from then on you’ll only get another episode every Friday at 8am. At this point, it would have made much more sense to let us binge the whole season at once.

Other than Mando, most of the other Disney+ originals are aimed at children/teenagers, with a few documentaries thrown in. From High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, to Diary of a Future President and even a live-action version of The Lady And The Tramp.

The Lady and the tramp live action disney plus
Lady and The Tramp (Photo: Disney)

If you have children/teens at home, then they’re going to enjoy these shows. If you don’t… then there definitely aren’t enough Originals for someone who’s grown tired of the library content. Yes, there are more coming in the future (including intriguing Marvel shows like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and Wandavision) – but that’ll take time.

So, it’s true that Netflix didn’t have any Netflix Originals when it started either – but the streaming world has changed, and launching a new streaming service with such a small collection of totally new productions is a bit of a disappointment.

Disney+ VS Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and NOW TV

Normally it would be unfair to compare a streaming service that just launched, with veteran giants like Netflix and Prime Video. But with Disney throwing so much content, money and marketing at its new service – comparisons have to be made.

When it comes to how the service works, the interface and the ease of use – all the major services work pretty much the same. I would give extra points to Netflix and Disney+ for having User Profiles – something Prime Video – and NOW TV – are still missing.

As for the content, Netflix is sort of a Content-Supermarket that has, well, a bit of everything. From dramas to thrillers, from kids-shows to gritty horror films. Last August, Netflix UK had 1,493 TV titles and 3,722 movies.

Then there’s Amazon Prime Video, which is similar to Netflix in that it tries to give something to everyone, although it doesn’t have as many original shows as Netflix. And around last August, it had 1,406 TV titles and 15,651 movies.

Disney+, on the other hand, currently has 350 TV titles and 500 movies. So obviously, they’re not going to win on the numbers.

(NOW TV works a bit differently, with separate “passes” for TV shows, films and kids – and you have to pay an additional monthly fee for each of the passes.)

I would say Disney+ still has an advantage when it comes to movies – since they have some of the biggest blockbusters of, well, any decade. Netflix and Prime Video don’t usually compete on blockbusters, but tend to focus on their original productions.

NOW TV do go for blockbusters and more recent films with their Cinema Pass – but it costs more, and – it won’t have any of the Disney films, now that Disney+ is around.

Where Disney+ really excels, is the pricing:

  • Netflix starts at £5.99/month for the basic, SD plan, then £8.99/m for the HD plan, and £11.99/m for the 4K plan on up to four screens.
  • Prime Video is either £5.99/month for the video service alone (4K included) or £79/year (so £6.5/month) for the full Amazon Prime membership.
  • NOW TV has separate passes, but getting the comparable Entertainment + Cinema + Kids would cost £24.94/month.

So, at £5.99/month Disney+ is similar to Prime Video in pricing, but is even cheaper if you take the annual subscription at £59/year (so £4.9/month).

At some point, when Disney+ gets more content and more subscribers, its prices will probably go up – but we’re not there yet.

Disney Plus screenshot

The Bottom Line: Is Disney+ Worth It?

At launch, Disney+ is a bit of a mixed bag. Minor bugs aside, the service is slick and easy to use, it’s generous in what you get for the price, and it learned a lot from what works and what doesn’t on the other streaming services.

But when you look at the content, If you’re a fan of one of their big content categories (and you haven’t seen everything they have to offer yet), you’re going to find a lot to dig into.

If you have kids, and you want content for them – or for the whole family to watch the classics together – you’re also going to find a lot of good stuff.

But if you don’t fit one of those categories – Disney+ is still lacking in content, especially in the Originals department (other than the truly excellent Mandalorian), and an ongoing subscription is going to be a hard sell.

Still, I wouldn’t bet against The House of Mouse – these are early days, and it’s safe to assume Disney+ will grow bigger and stronger as time goes by. Netflix doesn’t have to worry yet – but that time will surely come.

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